I’m a bit worried about Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic). Not seriously worried: there’s too much money invested, too much narrative hinterland accrued, too much fan-loyalty not to frustrate, too engaging a cast, too brilliant an original conception for the makers to cock it up too badly.
Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that troubled me about the first episode of season seven. One: Ed Sheeran. He’s not the first pop star to make a cameo appearance in Thrones — that honour fell a while back to purveyors of epic, weirdy-warbly, Icelandic whale-music-rock, Sigur Ros — but he’s definitely the most obtrusive.
When Sigur Ros did it, no sooner had they started singing than they were driven offstage by a hail of coins from an unimpressed King Joffrey. With Ed Sheeran, on the other hand, we had to endure a full scene of him sitting there in the woods, being amiable Ed Sheeran with his ginger Ed Sheeran hair singing an Ed Sheeran-style song and being himself. And you just sat there thinking: ‘Here I am watching Ed Sheeran doing a cameo in Game of Thrones.’ Surely the very least they could have arranged is for him to have been stabbed, or something?
Worse, though, for my money, was the scene at Winterfell, which has been invaded by something more terrifying and insidious even than White Walkers: feminism. Sansa Stark, for example. Through the six previous seasons, her main job has been to act as the most put-upon descendant of Ned Stark — multiply raped by her evil husband the Bastard of Bolton, manipulated by Littlefinger, eventually to be rescued by strong female Brienne of Tarth. Less of a character, more of a plot device to evoke sympathy for the House Stark, and fire up our desire for revenge.
Now, suddenly, she’s full of ideas. There’s Jon Snow trying to make plans. And here she is undermining him at public meetings with silly ideas of her own. Then, after he’s put her down and asserted his authority, foxily congratulating him in private on his wisdom with an intimacy that makes you half wonder: ‘Oh good Lord. Not another Cersei/Jamie scenario, surely?’
Meanwhile, Winter is coming and the White Walkers — who’ve been dithering frightfully since the Battle of Hardhome two seasons ago, I must say — are finally on their way. So one of Jon Snow’s edicts is for all the people of the realm from 10 upwards — boys and girls, he stresses — to be trained in spear work, etc.
Some of the men present — gruff, untutored Northern chauvinists that they are — pour scorn on this notion. But then up pipes plucky, strong, completely made-up female Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island. She may be only about 10 and have but a handful of men under her command. Most importantly, though, she has already read the entire collected works of whatever the Seven Kingdoms’ equivalent are of Germaine Greer, Susie Orbach and Betty Friedan, and is certain that girls her age with rudimentary training are as well suited to taking on armies of semi-invincible undead creatures as the next man. Course they are, petal.
Meanwhile, strong female Arya Stark (plot spoiler alert — though if you haven’t seen it why the hell you’re reading this now I do not know) has opened the episode by singlehandedly wiping out the entire family of Walder Frey (using her special face-changing skills taught by Jaqen H’ghar). Strong female Cersei Lannister is plotting her next move having employed her feminine wiles to destroy the once-overmighty Sparrow religious movement. And strong female Daenerys Targaryen is, of course, preparing to take over the Iron Throne aided by her vast army of fanatically devoted eunuchs and her dragons.
What am I saying here? Look, individually, I love all the strong female characters (Arya has always been my favourite, as she probably is yours too) and their wondrous antics. But collectively all this female empowerment gets a bit relentless, not to say implausible. If you’re going to create a brilliantly realised cod-medieval, macho fantasy world of arms and armour, why undermine all that hard-won verisimilitude by turning it into a paean to third-wave feminism for insufferably ‘woke’ millennials?
Why if this nonsense goes on, they’ll be turning Dr Who into a woman next, you mark my words!